Looking for photographer job in New Zealand

Why New Zealand? After I graduated high school I had two options: get tuition-free university degree in Russia or study in England. I couldn’t get sponsored tuition-free position so I had to go in England 🙂 I graduated as manadger in marketing but I didn’t want to stay there so I moved back to home and was thinking what should I do. Also, after some time after graduation, I realised I don’t really like marketing and I just waisted 3-4 years of my life. Photography was the only thing I was really keen into. One day I was asked for commercial photoshooting so I accepted and started working as freelance photographer. Some time later it turned out that photography or at least automotive photography are not really developed in Russia. Also there were another reasons making people to leave Russia. So I decided leave while it is not too late.

I was looking for where to move. I was interested in Australia. I was 26 and I didn’t want to spend another 3 years for education, so I started searching for shorter programms. That’s how I found one year course of Digital photography in Southseas film and television school in Auckland – I was just googling one year photography course and then I contacted the institution. What I was really interested in was a job search visa I could get after the graduation (actually I didn’t because there was change in the law). I enrolled in November 2012. I was asked to send few of my photo works just to get an understanding of my experience. Then I had a Skype call just to check level of my English. I was willing to go in January but they already got full classes so I had to go later, in July.

I paid tuition fee in full ~$17K, got a confirmation from the institution and started collection of documents to apply for a student visa. Also, I was asked for IELTS sertificate: I had academic 7.5 while the required was general 6.5. I passed medical tests, no police certificate was required, shown one way ticket to New Zealand, prove that I have enough money to live (one thousand nzd per month) and I was granted student visa without any issues. The only thing happened when I closed my appartment and locked my car in a garage – I got a call from a friend of mine who asked: did you know that your flight from Dubai to Auckland goes via Sidney so you have to apply for Australian visa? Sh..t! I took a flight from my home town to Moscow and applied for a transit visa in Australian embassy. Due to enexpected surcumstances, I got it in 24 hours. Surprisingly, I was never asked for the visa in Sydney airport.

Before the flight I had farewell party with my friends. There was around 80 people coming. Someone said it is crazy, another one said good luck, while the others was just shocked and couldn’t say anything. It was fun, but a little bit sad.

So big travel began!. I was feeling relaxed. First, I had a flight from Ekaterinburg to Dubai, where I had 11 hours transfer, then I had very loong flight to Sydney with two hours transfer and finally last flight to Auckland. didn’t sleep well before the first flight, I couldn’t sleep on a plain so I arrived very tired.
In the airport I was met by institution staff. They picked my up and gave me a ride to the school where I met manager and director; then we drove to a motel where I connected to WiFi and sent messages to my relatives saying everything is ok. Then I went to a nearest Burger King, opened whiskey I bought in a duty free store and went in my bed.

I arrived in New Zealand in winter and I didn’t feel it was cold. Sun was very active and was even stronger than cold breeze.
I remember I was a little bit nervous before I found accomodation and wasn’t sure what will happen tomorrow but I calmed down after some time.

Next day I came back into school and started searching for where to live. One student told me his friends were looking for flatmate. I gave them a call, moved in for a week just to see how it goes and then signed a one year contract. Finally I lived in Glenfield for a year and a half.

And then studying began: first day we had introduction where we sat in a circle and met each other. I have made a friend with a guy from Swiss. First half of year we were having theory and practical lessons, then we had an exam. Then we had another half of year of studying and then we had final exam.
We were teached Photoshop, theory and technique of shooting on street and in studio. How is camera made, how to shoot. Portrait photography, landscape. Also we had travel photography task when we had to go in another town and make 100 photos to show all the aspects of town: street photo, landscape, night photography, portrait. Usually we had this kind of taks on vacations. I went in Wellington for 5 days and made 1000 pictures in first three days and then was just walking and doing nothing.

We had lessons in same time from 8:30AM till 4:30PM having 3-4 theory lessons with practice. There was no subdivision on subjects so we had just one course of digital photography so there was something new from this course every week. For example, today we are learning how lenses work, tomorrow – how mirror works, which sorts of compositions exist and so on. In a nutshell, we had small pieces from a big solid pack of information (as I remember, I couldn’t find anything similar in Russian Universities or Institutions, maybe just a few photo seminars). We had theory lessons in the school and we had to book mini studio there as well for a practic lessons. Only one girl decided to leave the course on her own will and one guy failed to finish (not really sure how exactly). I graduated with best mark in my class.

All lectureres were basically tutors. Only one of them was permanent teacher, Marco Hedalgo who basically was an author of that course. His specifies on food and landscape photography, he was traveling around New Zealand and at some point decided to stay, opening photography course with his wife in this institution.
Second teacher was Leon Rose. Very good guy, I was arguing with him a lot. He was happy to help and never refused. Especially he never refused to drink beer. I was always interested in shooting cars so one day, when Leon’s acquaintance, Dietrich from ChristChurch, invited him to be an assistant for one task for Mitsubishi company, he invited me as well. The process of shooting was very enthralling.

At the end of the course every student had to do final project. I was focused on cars, but because this topic is quite huge, I choosed classic american car. I found American Muscle Car Auckland club, contacted their president, told him I need to make a project and asked him to send my message to club members who want to get their car’s images for free. I was waiting for two weeks but didn’t get an answer. And I need to shoot atleast 6 cars in 6 weeks. Shooting takes one day, then you need to post-process images, then you have to help another students. Also I had to prepare detailed plan of my project: what I’m going to do and what I’m going to shoot.

Later, when I got hips of messages from club members (around 50) I had an opportunity to choose cars I wanted to shoot. All cars was amazing, in ideal condition. While I was shooting one of them, his owner asked if he can invite his friend, who’s related to automotive industry, just to have a look. It turned out he was editor in chief of New Zealand Classic Car Magazin. So he saw me in action and asked me to send him the pictures when I finish. I was shooting Pontiac FireBird he wanted to write article about. I sent him my pictures, he liked them and we agreed he will publish them and give me a credit. I was very surprised when I went into gas station to buy a coffe and saw a magazine with my pictures and my name credited in newspapers & magazines isle.

In February 2014, some time before graduation, I found out that I can’t get work searching visa. It wasa disaster I had to sort out, I mean find a job. I wasn’t afraid and thought come what may! I mean, I was going to apply for work visa and see how it goes. I was browsing trademe website periodically looking for a job and found automotive photographer job add one day, on Sunday. It was full-time automotive photographer position. I sent my portfolio including classic american cars, CV, cover letter, and next day I was invited for the interview. I took my friend’s car and drove. They said I have great photos, but they don’t need such high quality pictures but they need usual ones. I said it is not a problem and I can shoot whatever they want.

Then I was asked about my visa and they find out I don’t have work permit and also, I don’t have driver license. I had student visa with 20 hours work permit per week only. I drove back to school, then I thought, called them back and suggested to work as intern in a part time if they can keep this position until I finish my education. So that’s how I got part-time work 3 month before graduation, starting in April 2014. I built very good working relations with all working mates so at the time when I finished studying, I had an employer, who sponsored my work visa and gave me job offer.

When I finished my final project I completed a presentation. Basically it’s just a slide show you show, so everyone watches without any pause, and asking no questions, only wow and sigh emotions allowed. As soon as presentation is finished, you tell what you wanted to do: my topic was american classic cars and I wanted to show car from inside, outside and in motion. And then people start asking questions: what problems I had, what went wrong and what you did to improve it. Students asked very simple questions, like how did I make this effect or where did I find this location for shooting and so on.

Basically this is a presentation. You get your mark not for the presentation, but for your pictures. Teacher is watching them separately in his office, looking for any “errors” and marks them using 100% scale for every photo. Then we had graduation in Takapuna. Everyone was there: photographers, videographers, directors and actors. Sometimes, when we need models for shooting we asked actors to be our models. They were happy to get an update for portfolio and we were happy as well. Makeup guys and girls were practising as well.

I finished my studying and asked my boss to provide all needed documents for my work visa. The only problem we had was foreing employee couldn’t be hired on this position until employee can prove he was looking but he couldn’t find best candidate among New Zealanders. So we had to relist this job ad again and then I applied for my work visa.

I was thinking to aplly for work visa by myself but I failed because I haven’t provided some document and my application was returned back to me. I had just one week before my student visa expired, so I went to immigration adviser, which was recommend to me by my friends and they said don’t worry, don’t pack your stuff, we’ll do our best. I sent my documents signed on Monday, they checked them and sent further to immigration services on Tuesday. On Friday I was told my work visa approved with no issues. It was fixed employer work visa so I can’t work for another employer.

But know (September 2014) I could work full time and I could get salary!
95% of my work is just conveyer photoshooting of used cars after some presail work has been done.

But sometimes they want me to make an exclusive photo for some newspaper or for presentation of new car. In this case I don’t have an option to choose what time of the day I can shoot, e.g dusk or dawn, I just drie to location and shoot. I mean, after midday they say we need really super cool photo, here is the key and I drive, shoot and provide picture at the end of working day. Sometimes I need to shoot something different, for example a yacht so I sail in a sea and drink beer. Nice job!

After 6 month I got a vacation, flew in Russa and started applying for residency after arrival in March 2015.
It was very long process. Or may be it’s just happen to me. I knew that sometimes photographer’s occupation goes into shortage list. And it was included in that list in March 2015. I called same immigration adviser who helped me with work visa, told them my occupation is now in demand so I applied for Skilled Migrant Visa and I was selected.

I had to prove that I’m skilled and I have 5 years experience in my industry.
By this time, I had one year New Zealand experience and I had to ask my ex-Russian employers to proove rest 4 years I have worked for them. The main problem was I need to get these letters, translate them in English, notarize, send in New Zealand and send them in immigration services, and then they send scan of these documents into New Zealand embassy in Moscow to ask them to check and verify. This took atleast one year since March 2015 ending in May 2016. All this time my application had pending state so I didn’t get any phone calls or messages.

Finally, I got New Zealand residency! Not a permanent one, but anyway! Even if I loose my job, I don’t have to leave the country. Also, now I can work on my own, getting tasks for another clients. My current plan is to stay in automotive industry. I appreciate a lot to my company for holding my back all the way and all the help and support they did with my work visa and residency. I wish one day I can get full-time position in car magazine or shooting commercial ad for car’s manufacturers. I had a plan to open my own studio but it’s not so easy. Also, I have some plans I can’t really say until I come back from Russia.

Competition? I wouldn’t say there is strong competition in photography in New Zealand. I mean, there is competition of course but all seats occupied. There is no demand. Car magazins do shooting but they already have a photographer on duty. Well, as an option I can always start my own car magazine 🙂
New Zealand is very beautiful country. Car manufacturers come quite often to make commercial ads here. So I think there are lots of prospect.

How this article may be useful for other people? You can always repeat my success. The most important thing is to find a job.
Wedding photographers in New Zealand are self occupied, so I don’t think they will sponsor work visa for you. You can’t be self occupied without New Zealand recidency. Fcion photographers, event, family & kids photographers exist in New Zealand as well. Some times they post job ads. Search for them, they appear and disappear very fast, so apply for them while it is not too late, may be you will be lucky. I was lucky enough to find my job.

If you really want get work search visa now, you have to study one year on level 7 or two years on level 6.
Digital photography cours I did is one year course. So you may graduate this course and then study another one year course or instead of this study some two years course. Or you can search for job while you study as I did.
Searching for a job from overseas doesn’t work. It is almost unreal for any occupation. People, who are hiring you wants to see you to understand, what kind of person you are to see will you fit the team or not.

Salaries? Salaries are different. For example, I have hourly rate, $25 per hour. I earn this amount of money because my company doesn’t require maximum of my skills. Wedding photography in New Zealand costs $3500 – you can work half of year and then travel for another half. I would say I’d like to earn $100 per hour for shootng a car on location to get $600-1000 for the whole process. And this is real. Actually they pay even more. I know a guy who earns $150 per hour. The most important thing is to find a client.

The conclusion: my main goal for last few years was getting New Zealand residency. Now, after I got it, I feel like I lost my goal. My future plan is my own self-development, e.g myself and my career. New Zealand is awesome country, especially when the sun shines (laughing). Amazing views, stunning landscapes, dask and dawns, plenty of places where you can do shooting. Sometimes I think to go back in Russia but it is nothing else but nostalgia feeling.

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Ivan Grigoryev's Blog
Living in New Zealand. Blogging about the country, beautiful places, everyday life.
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